Sunday, November 30, 2008


I arrived at the church this morning a little before 6 AM to work on the soup that will be served after church and before we decorate the sanctuary for advent. it was cold (and dark!) After I spent about an hour working on the soup, I looked out the window and saw snow. No problem, it was just a few flakes. Then I checked the weather report--winter advisory warnings. I was hoping to spend a few more hours with Amy and Rachel, but now it is best for them to start packing and get on the road while it is still somewhat safe for them to do so.

I am disappointed. I enjoyed the time we had together, but I was expecting to get a little more time before they had to leave. I guess that is how we all feel at times. We expect to have plenty of time for our loved ones, but life interrupts. It can be the weather or illness or something else, nonetheless, the time we expected to have is cut short.

I have always tried to make the most of the time we have together, but this is another reminder that we are never truly sure just how much time we have, so make the most of the time you have.

This is true for all of us. We never know how much time we have for family, friends, and God. Let us all do our best to make the most of the time we have, then when time runs out, we will know that we spent our time wiesly!

Friday, November 28, 2008


Yesterday was a day of cooking, eating, parade and football watching. What was almost forgot was being thankful! Trying to get to food on the table (with everything at the right temperature) is always a challenge.

As I reflect today, I realize how much time I spent preparing for the meal (and suffering from the after-effects) and how little time I actually spent being thankful!

This post is my attempt to fix that. I have a wonderful family. We are healthy, relatively happy, and actually like each other. I am blessed to serve a congregation in a beautiful area of New Jersey. I have turkey left over for sandwiches (my favorite way to eat turkey). I have more than a few treats that still haven't been tried yet.

I am very blessed. I intend to work harder to make sure others in my area can share these same blessings. We are in tough times. Our congregation helped a few families have a better Thanksgiving--that is not enough. People who need help at Thanksgiving most likely need help more than once time a year. How do we plan to help? I don't know, but I do know that we must find a way to share our blessings more than we currently do. True thanksgiving to God has to include reaching out with His love to those in need--and not just at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

So, here is my goal--starting now, I need to lead in such a way as to help those who need help. Food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, peace to the stressed, home for the homeless, friendship to the friendless, and grace to all.

If I can do those things, then true thanksgiving will happen!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Feed My Giraffes

Jesus spoke to Peter on the shore following His resurrection. As he spoke to Peter, Jesus repeated his command to Peter to, "Feed my lambs and to take care of My sheep, and to Feed My sheep." No where in this passage do I hear Jesus tell Peter to, "Feed my giraffes." What is my point? Simply this; I feel that too many times the Gospel message is proclaimed to the giraffes and not to the sheep.

Men and women leaving seminary have just spent 3 or 4 years digging deep into theology and it seems to me that they can't wait to shovel it out as fast as they can! Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with theology and theological sermons. What is wrong is preaching with words that have no meaning to the average person in the pew. What good is it to preach in such a way as to make yourself look "highly educated" if in the process you fail to reach your target audience? After all, isn't that the goal in preaching?

I have been told in the past (by those who should know better!) that my sermons are too "simple." To be honest, I don't think there is such a thing as too simple. I received an email this week from someone who didn't understand what I meant when I talked about being "Reformed." They are new to this congregation and new to Presbyterianism. So who is to fault in their lack of understanding; Them or me? Well, me of course. If I preach with terms that people do not understand, I might as well be preaching in a foreign language (because in essence that is exactly what I am doing).

Lord, help me (an any other preacher who will accept this advice) to preach the Word in such a way as all can both understand and be challenged. Let me take a back seat to your Word, and let the Spirit be free to work in the minds of those who hear the Word preached. AMEN!

Friday, November 21, 2008

True Faith

In Charles Swindoll’s book Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, he shares the following illustration of true faith:
Many years ago a house church of the former Soviet Union received one copy of the Gospel of Luke, the only Scripture most of these Christians had ever seen. They tore it into small sections and distributed them among the body of believers. Their plan was to memorize the portion they had been given, and then on the next Lord’s Day they would meet and redistribute the scriptural selections.
On Sunday these believers arrived inconspicuously in small groups throughout the day so as not to arouse suspicion of KGB informers. By dusk they were all safely inside, windows closed and doors locked. They began by singing a hymn quietly but with deep emotion. Suddenly, the door was pushed open and in walked two soldiers with loaded automatic weapons at the ready. One shouted, “All right—everybody line up against the wall. If you wish to renounce your commitment to Jesus Christ, leave now!”
Two or three quickly left, then another. After a few more seconds, two more. “This is your last chance. Either turn against your faith in Christ,” he ordered, “or stay and suffer the consequences.”
Another left. Finally two more in embarrassed silence with their faces covered slipped out into the night. No one else moved. Parents with small children trembling beside them looked at them reassuringly. They fully expected to be gunned down or, at best, to be imprisoned.
After a few moments of complete silence, the other soldier closed the door, looked back at those who stood against the wall and said, “Keep your hands up—but this time in praise to our Lord Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters. We were sent to another house church several weeks ago to arrest a group of believers—“
The other soldier interrupted, “…but instead, we were converted! We have learned by experience, however, that unless people are willing to die for their faith, they cannot be fully trusted”

I doubt that most of us will ever be called to die for our faith. Since that is true, I have a better question, “Are you willing to LIVE your faith?” We all have opportunities each week to make an impact for the Lord. It may be at the grocery store or at a PTA meeting; it may be with a family member, neighbor, friend, or co-worker. When the chance appears, are you willing to take it? Remember that faith that costs nothing, is worth nothing. What is your faith worth

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Keep Your Powder Dry!

The old motto of soldiers during the Revolutionary War applies to most areas of our life: “Trust in God, but keep your powder dry!” In other words, trust God, but be ready for action. Do everything you can to be prepared realizing that the ultimate outcome is in God’s hands. We need to trust God to be in control without forgetting that we have a role to play.

Whenever I have looked for a job, I trusted God to lead me, but I still sent out résumés! I did my part to “keep my powder dry.” We need to trust God with our lives, but that isn’t a blank check to act foolishly. If I spend more than I make, trust in God will not keep me out of trouble. If I act carelessly, trust in God will not necessarily keep me from harm.

Trust in God is not some “safety net” that allows us to act as with please with no thought to the consequences. Trust in God is a life response to how He has been there for us in the past and will be there for us in the future. David trusted God in his battle with Goliath, but he still had his slingshot and five stones ready for the battle. Trust in God allows us to become all we can be, but it does not allow us (in most cases) to achieve more than we are able to do. I can trust God to keep me safe, but if I fail to look both ways before I cross the street, that trust will not save me from the car that is barreling down on me.

So, what is the bottom line? Trust God, but prepare yourself for whatever He has in store for you. Prayer, preparedness, and trust in God will always be rewarded!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Family or Organization?

In the 1940’s and 1950’s going to church was the thing to do. Social conformity delivered people to the church. It was an era of institutionalism and the church therefore could get by with being slightly more organizational, denominational, and institutional. Times change. People change. Unfortunately, as times and people have changed churches (mainline denominational churches) have not changed to meet their needs. Don’t get me wrong, I am not talking about watering down the gospel, I am talking about how we approach people and how we “do church.”

We live in a society where most families no longer live in the same state, much less the same city or neighborhood with each other. My own family is a case in point. I live in New Jersey; I have a sister in Virginia, a sister in Kentucky, and a brother who splits time between his homes in Kentucky and Florida. Many, if not most, families in America have similar situations. Since the normal family has become so scattered, people are looking for a new extended family. The church is one place that people can look for that “new” family.

That is why I believe that “how” we do church has to change. A congregation lives together as a family. A church functions as an organization. It is high time we stopped being just another organization that people “belong” to and start being what we are called to be—a family. We need to embrace the old song by Sister Sledge—We are Family.

We are family; often a very dysfunctional family, but a family none the less. It is time that we started acting like it—a family that cares for each other, looks out for each other, and truly loves each other. When the church starts becoming the family that God has called us to be, we will begin to do all of the things God has called us to do. Don’t you think it is time to quit playing church and start living as a family of God? If so, I’ll see you at our next family reunion—Sunday morning at 10:00 AM!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Follow-Up on Tozer

Part of the passage I quoted yesterday from Tozer’s Pursuit of God says, “The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all.” We live in turbulent times. The world is in an economic crisis. There is fighting is various parts of the world. Violence seems to be the norm in many of our cities across America. Peace is seemingly nonexistent.

The Bible holds the answer (doesn’t it always!).
Philippians 4:4-9 says this:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Are you missing out in peace in your life? Here is the answer. Rejoice, don’t worry, and pray. Then think the right thoughts and do the right things. Simple, right? Well, I admit that it is easier said than done. When you are wondering whether or not the next round of layoffs will include you or there is a mysterious lump in your body peace can be hard to find.
The good news is that God cares. He knows you better than you know yourself. Therefore we need to trust Him at His Word; rejoice, don’t worry, pray, think right thoughts, and do the right things. When we do these things, we will truly find the peace of God. Peace that you will never find in the world. Peace that transcends all understanding.

May the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Wisdom from A.W. Tozer

During a train trip from Chicago to Texas in the late 1940s, A.W. Tozer began to write The Pursuit of God. He wrote all night, and when the train arrived at his destination, the rough draft was done. The following is an excerpt from that work:

Every age has its own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all.

If we would find God amid all the religious externals we must first determine to find Him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity. Now as always God discovers Himself to "babes" and hides Himself in thick darkness from the wise and the prudent. We must simplify our approach to Him. We must strip down to essentials (and they will be found to be blessedly few). We must put away all effort to impress, and come with the guileless candor of childhood. If we do this, without doubt God will quickly respond.

When religion has said its last word, there is little that we need other than God Himself. The evil habit of seeking God-and effectively prevents us from finding God in full revelation. In the "and" lies our great woe. If we omit the "and" we shall soon find God, and in Him we shall find that for which we have all our lives been secretly longing.

I find it interesting how “current” the thinking of Tozer is today even though this was written sixty years ago. We are caught up in an age where many fail to realize the peace that only God brings. We are too busy; we are too “intelligent” to simplify our approach to Him. It is time for us to seek God and not God-and something more. There is nothing more. When we truly make knowing God our highest priority, everything else will fall into place. This is simply another way to say, “But seek first His kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well,” (Matthew 6:33).
Seek God first. It is that simple and that complex. When are we going to abandon our misplaced priorities and come with child-like faith to the Father? When we do that, everything else will fall into place!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

First things First

The longer I am in the pastorate, the more I realize how inadequate I am on my own and how much I become with God’s help. I have started programs and ministries in the past (after careful thought and planning) and then prayed for God to bless the effort. As I grow older (and hopefully more mature) I realize that for so many years I have put the cart before the horse. Don’t get me wrong, I have been blessed to have seen more than my fair share of successes in the ministry. Unfortunately, I fear now that those successes could have been so much more had I only asked for God’s blessing before I even started planning.

I am a “big picture” person that has to push himself on the detail work. I like coming up with the idea and having others help me implement the program. Not anymore. I am making a concerted effort to spend more time in prayer and less time in planning; more time listening to God and less time asking Him to bless my efforts. Why? Because it is His church, not mine. God wants us to succeed, so why shouldn’t I listen to Him rather than try to have Him bless my efforts. Rather than ask God to bless my best intentions, I will begin at the beginning and the blessings will be built right in!

I truly believe that that is what is happening in my ministry right now. In the past I would have formulated a handful of projects for our congregation to reach out to our community. Right now, I am waiting on the Lord to reveal to me (or someone else in the congregation) how we are to reach those in need. Is this a cop out? By no means. This is simply putting first things first!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

History of Fusion at SPC

As I was reading about the history of the Stillwater (NJ) Presbyterian Church I learned that this congregation has a great history in fusion. In fact, it was fusion that actually began this congregation. On September 12, 1769, a group of Lutheran and Reformed brethren came together to build a House of God. By sometime in 1771 the original Stillwater Church was completed. While early reports are at best sketchy, it appears that the first congregation consisted of a union of German and Calvinist (Reformed) settlers of Hardwick (Stillwater was at that time a part of that community).

The original records are written in German, later to be written in both German and English before finally moving to just English. The early years saw the congregation flow back and forth in its theological interests based upon the current pastor. Finally, on June 13, 1823 the church became officially the Stillwater Presbyterian church. Under the care of the Presbytery, the congregation was able to hire a full-time pastor and growth followed.

The congregation has had its ups and downs since that time. Now at the tender age of 239 (or 185 if you only count the years as a Presbyterian congregation) fusion must again be the norm if we are to be all that God has called us to be. We need to reach out to the unchurched, the under-churched, and those who have simply fallen into the habit of not worshipping.

The challenges before us are no more daunting than those facing this congregation in the past. We simply need to respond by remembering who God is and what He calls us to do in our community. We have the greatest gift in the world to give and it is time that we quit being so stingy in sharing it!

God is faithful. Sometimes we are not. We live in tough economic times and if we allow our financial situation alone to determine how we do ministry, we will fail. God will supply our need (and not necessarily our wants) so let’s get busy doing the work and trusting Him for the results (after all, according to Scripture, it is God that provides the increase).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fusion and Mission

The Smaller congregation is not able to fund as many mission projects as a larger church. It is simple economics. The important issue for the small congregation then is to make sure that their mission focus is thoughtfully and prayerfully considered. Just because a congregation is small does not mean that their mission impact must be small. I believe when a congregation allows the Spirit to lead them to a specific Mission, they will find many benefits.

First, the congregation will begin to work together on a common goal. Whether it is reaching the youth of the community, or the elderly, or some other group, they will be able to combine their various talents to make a significant impact on those they are reaching out to.

Secondly, as they work together they will grow closer to each other—fusing them into one body and not a collection of individuals.

Lastly, the community as a whole will begin to see the congregation as a valuable resource and as they do, more doors and outreach opportunities will open up.

I guess what I am saying is that if we truly want to fuse older members with newer members, one of the best ways to do it is to roll up our sleeves and work side by side on a project that interests both old and new. The project will be a varied as there are congregations, but if we allow God’s Spirit to lead us, our projects will be the very ones that we have the talent to provide for those who need our help.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Running Out of Bulletins

Yesterday was a first for me in Stillwater--we ran out of bulletins! I have mixed emotions about that. First, I am very happy that we had so many people in church that we didn't have enough bulletins. But, on the other hand, I am saddened to think that I did not have the optimism to have enough bulletins printed. While vastly overprinting is a stewardship issue, why do I feel that printing an extra ten bulletins (just in case) is poor stewardship?

This morning, I have made a promise to myself to never let that happen again. Why? Simply because it is poor hospitality to run out of bulletins. I tell everyone that will listen that we need to be more hospitable, and then I fail to lead by example.

What are some of the other ways we fail to practice hospitality? Do we greet people warmly as they enter our building but ignore them as they leave? Do we notice that they have infants or children and fail to tell them how to get to the nursery or Sunday School classrooms? There are many ways to fail at hospitality, but only one way to make sure it happens--work at it!

Hospitality is free, yet too many times hard to come by. I preached on the Good Samaritan yesterday, and passed by some people that needed me (by failing to print enough bulletins). Rest assured, with God's help, this will NEVER happen again.

How about you? Are there areas of hospitality that you are neglecting? I pray that we all work to become the most hospitable people we can possibly be--both in church and out of it. Bulletin anyone?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Family Matters

Today I get to head down to Princeton and be with my family for a couple of days! While we know that what we are doing is the right thing, it is still hard. It has been almost three weeks since I got the chance to hold Amy. When I get really busy, I can forget about missing her, so I do keep busy. Unfortunately, too many Christians have decided to become so busy that they don't miss God in their lives.

We have more time-saving devices today than ever before, but we always seem to be decrying the fact that we don't have any time for the things we want to do. I am guilty of that myself. I do work a lot of hours, but I also waste too many hours. I watch TV, not because I really care about what is on, but because it is there. I am working on that. I go to the office early so I can spend time alone with God. I tape programs so I can watch them is less time (and set aside a time to watch them while I am doing laundry or waiting for a meal to finish).

What I am trying to say is this. I love Amy and I want to spend time with her and now that I can't do that as often as I would like--it hurts. How do you think Jesus feels when we are too busy with insignificant things to spend time with him? We all want to spend time with people we love. Jesus loves us--you do the math!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Awareness Test

First take the following test (courtesy of youtube).

Now, be honest, did you see the bear? I thought not! I have yet to find any person who sees the bear the first time they see the video. It is an example of how we get so focused on one thing that we completely miss others.

For me, it is a picture of the church that is in survival mode. The church is so worried about keeping their doors open, about bringing people for numbers sake (after all, more people means more giving) that they forget the whole reason that the church exists. The "moon walking bear" in the church is the mission of the church. We are to seek and save the lost, not simply keep our doors open so some might enter in!

So what about it? Isn't it time we quit focusing on the wrong things so that we can focus on what really matters? (In case you were wondering, that IS a rhetorical question!)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Just Vote

Finally, election day is here. I hope that all Americans take advantage of the opportunity to be a part of the process. Indeed, while I am pretty sure that many of the candidates I voted for will not be elected, that does not mean I shouldn't vote (and after standing in line at 2 different polling places, I did vote!)

There is a much larger "campaign" we need to support than any on the ballot today. We need to get people voting for Jesus -- not just with their words, but with their lives. No matter who wins the presidential election, there will be people who die without Jesus tomorrow if we don't tell them about His love for them.

While I was standing in line to vote today, I had an opportunity to talk about my faith and why I know Jesus is Lord. Now, to be honest, when I left the manse this morning I never thought I would be talking about Jesus in a polling line. After I voted, I got back in the car and thanked God for the opportunity to share the gospel. I think this is what Jesus had in mind when He told us, "as you are going, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." As you are going--every day, every place let those you come in contact with Jesus.

I got to vote twice today--once as an American, and more importantly I had to chance to vote for Jesus!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Finishing the Race

Yesterday the NYC marathon claimed another victim. 58-year-old Sao Paulo resident Carlos Jose Gomes had just passed the finish line Sunday afternoon when he complained about feeling ill. They say he was taken by ambulance to a Manhattan hospital, where he died shortly after. Now, don't get me wrong, this is a tragic event, but I see in it a picture of how we should run the Christian race.

The race for the Christian is a marathon and not a sprint. In a marathon there is pain that must be endured in order to complete the race. We are going to have times in our Christian life that are painful. Do we quit, or do we press on? Only if we press on do we finish the race. Paul states in Philippians 3:12-14, "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

How about you? Are you pressing on or dropping out? Remember, it is not how we begin, but how we finish that matters...finish strong!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Time to Get Out of the Stands

The Texas Tech football team has an interesting side story this season. I student who was picked to kick a field goal to earn free rent for a year has been added to the team! After winning the free rent, the Texas Tech coach offered him a position as kicker (the current kicker was having problems). He went on to kick 9 extra points in his first game and he had 4 extra points and two field goals in his second game (though he did have a third field goal attempt blocked.)

How amazing is this? I kid comes to the game to watch and now he is an integral part of an undefeated team that just beat the number one team in the country! Can you even imagine what is going through this young man’s heart and mind? How did I get here, can this be true?

I think that the Lord is calling for all of us to get out of the stands and onto the field! We have the ability to step in and do what the Lord is calling us to do (because it is, after all, the Lord that gives us those gifts). What we all too often lack is the desire to become a part of the action. It is high time we stopped being simply a face in the crowd and took our rightful place on the playing field. Will we always be successful? Yes and no. We will have setbacks (like a blocked field goal), but when we trust in the Lord and give Him our best, we will see many more successes than failures.

Here comes Coach Jesus, He is asking you to get out of the stands and come play for Him. What is your answer? In the words of John Fogerty, “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play today!”